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  • Writer's pictureDennis Toh

5 ways the Covid-19 Pandemic may end

On 21 April 2020, the Singapore government announced that the Circuit Breaker would be extended by one more month in efforts to contain the Coronavirus. We could almost hear the sighs of exasperation and groans erupting across Singapore when the announcement hit our TV screens. As PM Lee took yet another sip from his iconic blue cup, the only thing that raced through everyone’s mind was this – “When is Covid-19 going to come to an end?”

Unfortunately, no one knows exactly when the pandemic will come to a full stop. However, researchers do have some theories on how the Coronavirus outbreak may end – some scenarios being less depressing than others. Here are 5 ways scientists think the Covid-19 outbreak may end, from “best case scenario” to “worst”.

1. A vaccine is developed

In the most optimistic case, scientists will find a vaccine for Covid-19 and the disease will finally be beaten, as was the case for polio. However, scientists have so much more to learn regarding the current Coronavirus disease, which makes it even more difficult to find a cure. Currently, there are dozens of companies and universities across the globe who are rushing to find a cure, but we aren’t sure if their efforts will prevail. Even if a vaccine is found, the development process is a long and complex one that requires months, if not years of testing to ensure that the shots are safe for human use. While some scientists at John Hopkins University predict that a vaccine for Covid-19 may be successfully delivered within 12 to 18 months, critics believe that this goal is overly ambitious, and we should temper our optimism. Will a vaccine be available soon? Looks like we can only wait and see.

2. The virus mutates and humans stop getting infected

This scenario would be similar to the SARS outbreak in 2002 that infected 230 people in Singapore and killed 33 patients. Covid-19 is often compared to SARS as they belong to the same Coronavirus family, so it’s reasonable that many people draw conclusions from the SARS outbreak to predict how Covid-19 will end. In the case of SARS, the virus eventually ran its course after mutating to a point that made it harder to be spread. However, researchers have noted that Covid-19 is very different from SARS, having infected 400,000 people over the course of four months compared to SARS which infected 8,000 people in two years. Covid-19 is obviously more transmissible than SARS, making it more difficult to contain. Even if it does mutate to a point that it cannot be transmitted, the process would take many years.

3. Covid-19 may be a seasonal virus

A common seasonal virus is the flu, which peaks during winter and dies out when the seasons become warmer. Seasonal viruses tend to be easier to contain, as it is easier to predict when and how they run their course. Unfortunately, we have yet to find out if Covid-19 reacts to seasonal differences, with many people having a ‘blind optimism’ that it will wane in May and June when temperatures hit a high. Some experts have noted that even if Covid-19 is seasonal, warmer weather may not be enough to slow its spread.

Then again, pandemics don’t always follow the same seasonal patterns that we see in normal outbreaks. For example, the Spanish flu peaked during the summer months, instead of dying out. If Covid-19 fails to show seasonality, we should not be surprised.

4. We become immune to Covid-19

When the coronavirus first hit Britain, the UK Government flirted with the idea of “herd immunity”, which is the practice of allowing up to 60% of the population – mainly the young, to catch the virus and let it play out. This idea is certainly unorthodox, but our bodies could potentially become immune to the virus.

Unfortunately, there is also no evidence to suggest that a person with Covid-19 cannot be re-infected with the virus. We also don’t know the exact proportion of people who have to be exposed to the virus to establish herd immunity. Without having the answers to these questions, we would never know if herd immunity is truly effective.

5. The spread never ends and Covid-19 becomes part of our lives

In the worst-case scenario, the virus never truly dies out and living with Covid-19 becomes the new norm. Experts may find a way to manage it, but it does not stop spreading. Eventually, much of the world’s population will contract it, but a large number still doesn’t – meaning the virus will continue to linger on forever. We can’t imagine this scenario playing out, but if the day truly comes, let’s hope that humanity is prepared for it.

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